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The Environment, our Earth’s Lost Frontier?

22 Apr

 

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(On the left horizon, hydrocarbons are being released into the air, blemishes an otherwise clear arctic day.)

Multimedia eLearning by: David A. Johanson © All Rights

All Roads Lead to Nowhere

Early in my career as a photographer I received assignments which took me above the Arctic Circle. Construction companies and architects working for oil companies in Alaska’s North Slope hired me to photograph their on going developments. At that time the Prudhoe Bay oil field’s production had peaked due to years of sustained extraction. A new oil field near the Kurparuk River, west of Prudhoe Bay was the site I was sent to. The Kuparuk oil field is the second largest oil field in North America by area, and traveling by aircraft was the way I moved from site to site.

Roads and construction sites above the arctic circle, rely on heaps of gravel placed over the tundra’s surface to prevent them from sinking into the earth when the ground thaws. Traveling less than 100 feet off the tundra, at 150 miles per hour, the pilot of the Hughes 500D helicopter races to horizon. The orange shelters at the edge of the road, is our intended destination. These metallic enclosures are used to pump hot steam down-into the wells, for recovering a thick slurry of oil, locked deep below the frozen tundra.

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Environmental stock photography for a New Dawn.

Alaska, the Last Frontier  

Flying above an older oil facility, it can clearly be seen — the years of oil production have left Rorschach-like-ink-blots, splattered on the surrounding tundra. I have not been to the oil fields for many years, but I was told at the time — ‘oil companies were trying to cleaning up their act, while leaving a smaller footprint.’ I pray what I heard was true, but as we know — accidents both large and small continue to happen.

On a clear day while flying above vast stretches of tundra, we spotted a small monument, which marked where Will Rogers and Wiley Post had been killed in a plane crash. I spotted dozens of randomly placed metallic cylinders near the site. My bush pilot brought the airplane down for a closer look and cynically said, those are abandoned, empty 50 gallon oil barrels… known as —“Alaska’s state flower.

 Environmental stock photography for a New Dawn.

An old barn in the shadow of Anacortes oil refinery.
There’s something charming about old barns as they weather over the years. This one with its organic wood earth tones, is contrasted against the metallic cylinders of an oil refinery in Anacortes, about 70 miles north of Seattle, on the edge of Puget Sound. On April 2, 2010 five workers were killed at this oil refinery as an explosion and fire ripped through part of the refinery.

EARTH Day seems to have more meaning as the impact of global warming, seismic and volcanic activity focuses our attention on the big picture.

Environmental stock photography for a New Dawn.

Our world is delicately balanced, spinning through space, with us all aboard along for the journey. At least one day, one week, out of a busy calendar year, we’re asked to give homage to our planet by being aware of its’ environment. In honor of this day, I’m sending out photographs and prose that reflect current events affecting our world’s environment.

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Earth Day 2010

“One World, One Planet.”
A fascinating, outdoor setting, with an incredibly diverse ecosystems is the Rainforest of the Olympic National Forest. It was a late summer day when I hiked down form Lake Osset, to where the rainforest meets the Pacific Ocean. This area has never been logged, the old growth forest here stands as it has for thousands of years.

After setting up a tent I walked along a trail leading to a lush meadow. A twig snapped a few feet away from me, revealing two unusual looking deer, grassing in the tall grass. Never have I encountered wildlife, where if I desired, could reach out and touch it. The deer could plainly see me; yet they made no effort to scramble away or even conceal themselves. The reason this wildlife seems tame is that they reside within a remote National park, where no hunting is allowed.  Slowly, I raised my camera loaded with my favorite Kodachrome transparency film. As I began to take a series of photos, I noticed unusual patterned markings on the deer’s body.  Refocusing my lens, amazingly, what appeared was a map of the earth, patterned on the deer. Last year I scanned the transparency, then enhancing it with Photoshop, the world continents clearly revealed themselves in what I’ve themed
– “One Planet, One World.”

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Have you ever gone back to a place and found what you had once treasured was missing? The longing for beauty, which once was, is a reoccurring theme used to select many photos in this essay.

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Earth Day 2010

“Paradise Lost” –
The enchanting scene with a man gazing into the pools of water is from Whatcom Falls. My college roommate sitting on the moss-covered boulders is Mark Nishimura, a fine-art photographer, originally from the state of Hawaii. Mark asked that I photograph him in a place that was reminiscent of the waterfalls back home on Ohau. I used a Hasselblad and slow speed transparency film to help capture the dynamic range of shadows and highlights. This was one of my favorite places to photograph when I attended school at Western Washington University, in Bellingham. Many students would spend summer afternoons cooling off, diving and swimming amongst the deep pools of water. A short walk into Whatcom Park, placed you in a lush environment, under a thick canopy of evergreen trees, moss-covered vegetation with sounds of cascading waterfalls running throughout it.  Environmental Photography

Some years after this photo was taken, tragedy struck, instantly incinerating this charming environment. A refinery’s 16-inch fuel-line running next to the park, ruptured, spewing nearly 300 thousand gallons of gasoline into the creek. In an instant, the fuel ignited, creating a river of fire, which killed three youths fishing in the creek and sending a toxic vapor cloud six miles into the atmosphere. The fireball and plume of smoke was visible from Anacortes to Vancouver, B.C., Canada.  Now, ten years after the catastrophe, I plan to return to the falls and photograph the site with hopes that nature’s healing process is transforming it back to the way it use to be.

Environmental Photography

Environmental Photography

Environmental Photography

Earth Day 2014

“Paradise Found” –
I remember a photography teacher I had in college took us to a beach near Chukanut Drive. When he gave out the assignment, most of the class groaned; we were to pick a spot on the beach, stay within a 25-foot diameter and shoot a series of photos to tell a story. Most of us wanted to take our cameras and explore what the entire beach had to offer. Surprisingly, it was one of the best assignments I was ever given in school; because it broke the stereotype about how you were suppose to see. Within that small domain we discovered, a whole universe was waiting to reveal itself before the camera lens. That photography lesson has stuck with me since, although world travel is a passion, I realize that I really didn’t have to go any farther than my backyard to find great images and no matter what, if resourceful, amazing subjects can be found everywhere.

My home’s back yard is like an outdoor studio full of indigenous plants, birds and amphibians. We avoid using pesticides and only use natural fertilizers on the yard and garden. One afternoon I found this charming tree frog sitting on a leaf, warming itself in the sunshine. With a macro lens on my camera, I was able to get within inches of the frog and let the background merge into soft abstract forms. The photo makes me smile whenever I see it because it reminds me, I never have to go far to reconnect with nature.

Environmental Photography

On a moonlit night, traveling the back-roads of Washington and Oregon —
we found countless sentinels standing guard against the cold breeze of darkening skies.

Environmental Photography                  

The Future is Now…
Working tirelessly with the wind, turbines spin against the moon backdrop, producing ‘clean energy’ for the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the Americas and many other places in the world, the tide is turning as we move more towards wind and solar for a clean, renewable energy source.

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Web Links For Earth Day 

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local/illinois&id=9511926

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/04/22/tri-state-area-commemorating-earth-day-with-series-of-events/

http://www.earthday.org

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140421-earth-day-2014-facts-environment-epa/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/04/22/earth_day_2014_a_few_fun_facts_about_our_planet.html

 

 

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Blinded By Light, In The Middle Of Night

16 Aug
Multimedia essay by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights  — Second Edition
For an alternative formatted view of this essay, please visit — http://www.BigPictureOne.wordpress.com

My photo wingman, Rick Wong and I headed into the heart of darkness in quest of the Perseid meteor showers. Mount Rainier National Park—was our ultimate destination. We chose the iconic, volcanic landmark for framing an infinite field of stars, which we believed was far from the glare of city lights. Traveling at night in Rick’s new Ford Fusion, using the hybrid’s voice recognition, made it easy to arrive at the park without using a map. Reaching our destination, luminous sparkling stars lit up the still night, but we were surprised with some uninvited competition, which nearly stole the show.

A stunning view of Mount Rainier reflected in Reflection Lake, with the summer stars overhead. The pink and orange glow on the left side of the mountain is light pollution emitted from the City of Tacoma, approximately 65 miles northwest.

 

We found an ideal location above Reflection lake, with the Cascade Mountains’ most famous stratovolcano in the background. An unexpected warm light was glowing behind Mount Rainier, which I reasoned, was a faint remnant from the earlier sunset. However,  the sun had set at least four hours earlier, so it couldn’t be the source of the illumination. Rick suggested “its light coming from the City of Tacoma,” located about 65 miles away. During a 20-second long exposures used to take images of the snow-capped mountain, I began thinking about the effects caused by light pollution.  

With a bright moon rising, we worked fast to keep up with the changing light, until its intensity eventually overpowered the stars.

With the moon steadily rising behind us, it too was causing us to shift focus on what to photograph. Like a giant diffuse reflector, the moon projected soft filtered sunlight onto a previously dark, formless landscape. As the moonlight overwhelmed the intensity of the starlight, it removed the opportunity for crystal clear views of the Milky Way, as well as faint meteor sightings. Being photo opportunist, we used the moonlight opportunity to reveal shadow-detail  on the south face of Rainier.    

The photographer appears in the dark, like some sorcerer conjuring an intense red light before Mount Rainier and her crown of stars above.

A Peaceful Paradise Lost

There’s a tranquil feeling while in the process of taking long exposures at night; it’s normally quiet with minimal distractions to overwhelm the senses or interrupt your focus. I personally enjoy these rare opportunities of solitude, to visualize an image using a minimal—Zen like perspective.

Distractions can be disruptive during these in-the-now-moments, as when cars coming around corners with intense, high-beam headlights.  More than once, clusters of cars with high beam lights appeared… just as the moon illuminated the mountain’s reflection onto a perfectly still lake. I quickly used my hands, in an attempt to shield the lens from light flare. Finally, the cars diapered into the darkness with no approaching vehicles until dawn.

Photo-illustration of the multiple effects of light sources which can cause light pollution by unintended distraction or spill-light.

Moving above the lake to find new angles for interesting compositions, I began to notice something, which I had not noticed before.  Lights of various colors, were coming from photographers bellow me, created by their digital camera’s preview monitors and infrared sensors for auto focusing. With the low light-sensitive Nikon cameras I was using, their monitor lights appeared like a bright flare in my long exposure photos. Now, I had one more unwelcome light source to deal with, which required strategic timing in making exposures to avoid the glare. 

Again, my thoughts returned to the issues of light pollution. I remembered back home when I wanted to photograph a full-moon  at night and a neighbor’s floodlight lit up the backyard. Their floodlight forced me to find the last remaining isolated shadowed corner of the yard.

My reminiscing was cut short by a distant, but bright, pinpoint of light flashing from bellow Mount Rainier’s summit.  Flashlights from mountain climbers near Camp Muir shined bright like lighthouse beacons in the semi-darkened rocks and glacier fields. Even the faintest light can shine bright at night as documented in World War II. Warships were forbidden from having any exterior lights on at night, including a lit cigarette, otherwise they could be spotted from great distances by enemy submarines.  

Lights from mountain climbers on the approach to the summit of Mount Ranier.

Encountering the Universe’s Brilliance

The improper, overuse of outdoor lighting has erased a fundamental and connecting human experience—encountering the universe’s brilliance with its galaxies and stars shining in the night sky! Making a visual contact with our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of the greatest shows seen from Earth.

In less than a century of civilization’s reliance on electric technology: two-thirds of the U.S., half of Europe and a fifth of people in the world—now live where they cannot see the Milky Way with the unaided eye. You can appreciate how we lost our stellar view by seeing aerial photos taken from orbiting spacecraft and the International Space Station. These startling images taken of Earth at night, reveals a man-made galaxy of artificial light, which cancels out much of the real ones in the sky above.  

Some years back, I was a part-owner in a small recreational ranch, in Eastern Washington’s, Okanogan County. Brining friends over from Seattle, it was often nighttime when we arrived. The instant of exiting the cars, was a startling event as the Milky Way’s intensity of light overwhelmed your senses. The “ranch” was remotely located, at about 5,000 feet in the mountains, near the Canadian border and 30-miles from the closest town. Days would go by where we didn’t see a car or even hear a small airplane go overhead… it was one of the most refreshing experiences of my life, to perceive nothing except wind going through trees and seeing only starlight at night for hours at a time.

Image courtesy of NASA

 A television interview with the director of a major observatory in Southern California recounted when Los Angeles had its last electrical blackout —people were calling 911 and his observatory, reporting of strange, bright objects in the night sky. Actually what the callers were seeing for the first time, was the natural light from intensely shining stars of the Milky Way.

Image courtesy of NASA.

 

Besides forfeiting a life inspiring, wondrous view of the cosmos, there’s tangible losses associated with light pollution. Conservative estimates are 30 % of U.S. outdoor lighting is pointed skyward in the wrong direction, which wastes billions of dollars of electricity. The unnecessary practice of lighting clouds, burns more than 6 million tons of coal, which adds harmful greenhouse gas emissions, along with toxic chemicals into our atmosphere and water.

Further scientific studies indicate wildlife is suffering the ill effects of excessive urban lighting.  The City of Chicago has taken measures to turn off or dim its high-rise lighting to enable migrating birds to continue normal migration patterns. An increase in species of insects attracted to light, along with rodent attraction to bright city lighting is a growing concern to many scientists. 

Heavy equipment product shots never look quite this good. Scheduled improvements to the viewing area above Reflection Lake, had some equipment taking a nap, before going to work when the sun came up.

Education Is the Solution to Light Pollution

The reason light pollution has continued to multiply is, we have grown accustomed to its seemingly benign expanding presence. After all, probably no one can point to a single case of a person killed from overexposure to light pollution?  However, there is a correlation to growing health risk associated with overexposure to artificial light in the form of physical fatigue and damage to eyesight. In 2009, the American Medical Association established a policy, which supports the control of light pollution.

Municipal lighting codes are beginning to help define and eliminate unnecessary light pollution. Lighting enforcement can create a more pleasing environment, by reducing excessive urban lighting, which causes fatigue from glare and cuts down on unnecessary electric utility cost. Redirecting outdoor lighting away from the sky where it is needlessly wasted is a simple and easy solution.

Installing motion detector security lights are another efficient and productive mitigation strategy. For security purpose, a light which is triggered by motion is much more effective for crime prevention than a continuous floodlight. Motion detector lights have a clear advantage of focussing our attention onto an area where there’s a sudden change from darkness to bright-light.

The Milky Way is what we should be able to see at night if it was not for unrestricted light-pollution. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy in the right 1/3 of the frame. Nikon D700 – Nikkor 28mm lens @ F3.5 @ 20 seconds August 11 11:48 p.m.

The encouraging news is… the key to reducing light pollution is a simple matter of basic education and action. Public awareness of over-lighting requires a minimal expenditure, which will quickly pay for itself in energy savings and perhaps return the opportunity to experience one of the greatest shows seen from earth. ~

Light pollution glossary:

Urban Sky glow: the brightening of night skies over municipal and communities. Caused primarily from collective reflected light and poorly directed light, which is pointed upward.

Light trespass: light falling or spilling into areas where it is not intended. Also know as “spill light” such municipal streetlights, which go beyond indented illumination of street signs and sidewalks and lighting residential homes.

Glare: A direct, bright or harsh light, which causes discomfort or pain. The effects of glare can be reduced or eliminated with the use of a shield or filter.

Uplight: Light angled inappropriately upward towards the sky and serving no purpose. Uplift washes out the night sky and reduces opportunities for astronomers and stargazers to enjoy the beauty of the planets, moon and stars.

Clutter: Poorly planned, confusing and unpleasant use of multiple lights usually associated with urban or retail lighting. Retail business sometime competes by using overly bright, multicolored or pulsating light

Links to articles & related resources on light pollution:

 http://www.darksky.org/assets/documents/is001.pdf

http://www.njaa.org/light.html

http://www.skymaps.com/articles/n0109.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_pollution

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/Light_Pollution

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The Unworldly Splendor of Oregon’s Painted Hills.

3 Apr

Photo/video and text by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

The sun had just set as I arrived at my friend’s condominium on Lake Washington near Seattle.  Rick was loading camera equipment into his SUV Ford Escape, which is a gasoline-electric hybrid and incidentally one of the first American-built hybrids.

We had a long drive ahead of us and we’d be traveling all night until reaching our destination in the high desert of Central Oregon.  It was a cool, but clear, May evening, as the SUV climbed steadily up Snoqualmie pass; taking us over the Cascade Mountains and  into dryer Eastern Washington.  After a few hours of driving the glow from a near full moon was illuminating the desert sagebrush outside the town of Goldendale on the Columbia River.

Wind turbines above the Columbia River are lit by the moon.

Our adventure to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, was planed  to coincide with a full moon to illuminate the surreal Painted Hills within the Monument.  Rick and I use digital cameras, featuring full-sized imaging sensors and fast optical lenses, which are ideal for capturing in lowlight environments.  Taking the opportunity to harness some moonlight as it rose above the Columbia Gorge, we made a stop to photograph wind turbines, which populate this section of Washington and Oregon.  The site is ideal for wind farms due to the wind tunnel conditions created by compressed airstreams forcefully moving through the constricted Gorge.   

Standing next to a colossal tower is a strange experience.  These wind catchers are the largest machines you’ll probably encounter on land and the eerie sounds produced from the massive propeller blades takes some getting use to.

Driving on the Washington side of the Columbia River and into Oregon you see legions of wind turbine sentinels, as they constantly harvest the restless winds.  It takes an hour of driving south on the highway before we no longer have towers flanking our drive. What I’m surprised not to see are other cars traveling in either direction on the highway.  The vast size of Eastern Oregon is not appreciated unless you spend some time touring in its’ large, unpopulated counties.

After traveling all night and encountering some falling snow as the hybrid SUV started ascending the road to the high desert—we finally entered into the realm of the primeval Painted Hills.  It’s totally dark now that the moon set hours earlier, so we pull into a remote area to catch a couple of hours of sleep before our video and photography expedition begins.  The John Day Fossil Bed National Monument is organized into three Units; the Painted Hills is the third Unit, which contains 3,132 acres of wildlife, plants and some unusual geology.

Over millions of years, layers of ash from nearby volcanic eruptions mixed with clay through the process of erosion to cause intense patterns of color.

The following morning was a like waking up in some eye-candy dreamland.  The colors just popped out of the scene like a TV monitor, which had been over adjusted with the saturation turned way up.  Stunned by the startling beauty, I grabbed my video camera on a tripod and began shooting panorama footage.  Ready for capturing the details of the environment; an external microphone was used to record the outburst of chattering songbirds, which had woken up to herald the beginning of a new day.  My first impression was an experience of sensory overload; it was  challenging to take in all the colors, sounds and surreal shapes of the textured topography.  What I was seeing, appeared to be out of this world —like viewing some futuristic post cards of a terraformed  Martian landscape.

What I remembered from earlier road trips to Southwest was how striking the Painted Desert in Arizona appeared but that now seemed pale in comparison to the Painted Hills.  What makes the  geology at this site so vivid with saturated color was caused by a series of volcanic  eruptions, occurring over millions of years.  The accumulation of bright  layers of ash, dust and clay mixed together from relentless years of erosion — forming intense, saturated strata of colors, layered into the hills.

What remains buried beneath the volcanic soil is a time-capsule, of preserved fossil remains from mammals and plants, which thrived  during the  Cenozoic Era – the Age of Mammal [roughly 65 million years ago.] This National Monument is a target rich environment for paleontologist studying fossils from this time period.

After I shot about an hours worth of video from the spot we had park at from the night before, it was time to scout other dramatic locations.  Not too far into our drive we spotted a family of graceful antelope, casually grazing in a large field.  Apparently, from talking with one of the NPS Rangers, this National Monument is full of indigenous wildlife including: bears, cougars and eagles.

Latter in the afternoon we stopped at the side of a gravel road to take in a stunning view of  one of the larger hills at the site.  The clouds above were opening and closing like a massive shutter on a spotlight; producing lighting effects which were irresistible.  We set up tripods along with our video and still cameras to begin shooting right away.  Shortly after, a ranger  pulled up close to the SUV and was intently watching us. Rick and I looked at each other with a shrug, thinking perhaps we had unknowingly parked in a restricted area. Eventually the ranger introduced himself, he had the impression we were part of a National Park Service video crew, which was schedule to be doing work at the Monument.  The ranger was there to lead a group of photographers into a restricted area for a guided tour, so he invited us to join in.  As it turned out, this special photography tour only takes place one weekend out of the entire year —when the John Day chaenactus (a bright yellow wild flower) begins to bloom; then as quickly as it appears—it begins to fade away.

The photographer’s tour was visually fantastic and can only be experienced under the supervision of an NPS Ranger.  The plant life is so fragile here, you’re only allowed to  walk inside a dried out creek bed while touring this area.  The Ranger was gracious enough to allow me to interview him about the site.  Wind is common and unpredictable in this high desert area, so I came prepared with a wind guard on my microphone; but I did experience a few audio dropouts,  hopefully you’ll able to hear the main message clearly enough.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMno4hbg-ZA

Later that evening we photographed the landscapes using a full moon for our lighting. I’ve never seen greater clarity of the stars and moon from this high desert environment, which created a great backdrop for an unearthly landscape. We photographed throughout the night until the light of predawn appeared.

At a little over 2,000 feet in elevation, the high desert can produce cold, bone-chilling weather and as mentioned—windy conditions.  I recommend warm clothing and gloves to help keep your hands comfortable from wind-chill.  For photography, the higher altitude is a great benefit, especially for optical clarity if your focus is on night photography of stars and landscapes.

I definitely plan to go back to the Painted Hills as soon as possible… it’s a dreamlike setting I have rarely experienced, which captivates the senses, with its splendor of stunning colors contained within an unworldly environment. ~

LINKS:

Here’s a link to National Park Service’s John Day Fossil Bed National Monument:   http://www.nps.gov/joda/index.htm

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